The World and His Mother

Talking to your spouse about dating other people can be complicated enough, but if you’ve successfully negotiated that, and you’re both comfortable with the idea, there can be other hurdles in your way. Unfortunately, marriage is about more than just two people. Inevitably, friends and relatives will concern themselves with it too, and the consequences of them discovering that you’re married and looking can be disastrous. How can you handle this?


The first thing to do is to understand that complications involving friends and relatives are an inevitable risk, no matter how discreet you try to be. Talk to your spouse about this and make sure you both take due time to think about it. Try to agree on the right way to talk to anybody who raises concerns. If those close to you are worried that your marriage may be on the rocks, it helps to present a united front. You’ll also need to make sure that concerned friends don’t inspire doubts which put pressure on your relationship, and that they don’t intrude into the privacy which is an essential part of the bond between you.


Most people who are married but looking feel that nobody else needs to know. It’s essentially a private matter, and being open about it could lead to social approbation or even problems at work. The unfortunate downside of this strategy is that when your secret is uncovered, the very fact of your discretion can make it look like something you were ashamed of. It’s important to anticipate this and have an explanation ready, one which aims to head off people’s concern and acknowledge their curiosity without giving away too much of what is private. Many people won’t believe that you and your spouse are both comfortable with it until they’ve talked to you both, so, difficult though this can be, it’s usually best to try and deal with it quickly before your friends become tempted to gossip.


Gossip, of course, feeds on moral outrage, and sometimes people who consider being married and looking to be immoral will still make a fuss about it even after you’ve shown them that no-one is getting hurt. It can be difficult to deal with people like this and you may find that it seriously damages your relationships with them, but you should be wary of getting into passionate arguments which will only make them more likely to blow off steam about it with other people. Try to downplay its significance so that they may think of it as wrong but they don’t think of it as a big story. Discuss what they say with your spouse so that neither of you feels morally isolated by it and you’re less likely to be persuaded to doubt your choices.


Of course, disapproval by a friend, or even a work colleague, is a minor problem compared with disapproval by a parent, sibling or grown-up child. We don’t get to choose our families but, for the most part, we’re stuck with them, and moral disagreements within a family can be very upsetting. Try to remember that these aren’t always as clear-cut as they might seem. Although, upon first discovering that you’re married and looking, your relatives may well argue that it’s ‘wrong’, very often their reaction is less about principles than about a simple desire to protect you, your spouse, and/or your marriage. To most people, the discovery of extra-marital activity is an indication of impending breakdown. Because you marriage itself represents an extension of your family, this is something which family members will usually want to prevent. They’ll also want to prevent the unhappiness or humiliation of those they love, which they may well see as inevitable.


Talking about your marital arrangements with your relatives can itself be upsetting and humiliating, but it may be a necessary evil. It helps if you can deal with one person at a time. If you think a relative is suspicious about your activities, it may be better to take the initiative and have a talk with them before they raise their concerns with somebody else. That way, if the rest of the family do find out later, you’ll have somebody who has a better idea where you’re coming from to help explain your situation.


Most people expect that their elderly relatives will be the hardest to talk to about this sort of thing, but that’s often not the case. People who remember what life was like during and just after wartime, when normal family relationships were disrupted and there were shortages, in different places, of women and of men, are often familiar with the idea of open relationships and have sufficient experience not to be bothered by them. These people can be useful allies when you have to explain things to the rest of your family.


Once your family understand that you’re married but looking, and that it doesn’t mean your marriage is in crisis, you may encounter another problem – that your secret has become the family’s secret and that they are anxious to protect it, to the point where they become controlling. This can be particularly difficult if you’re already open about it with some of your friends, and it can effectively limit your dating options. Try to explain that what you do on dates with other people deserves as much respect and privacy as what you do within your marriage. It’s one thing to be discreet about extramarital dating – say, by using a matchmaking service like – but trying to hide all your social interactions with your dates from the public eye is quite another, and can have an unhealthy effect on all your relationships.


Sometimes friends and relatives will react badly to discovering that you’re married and looking because they don’t think it’s a big deal, and because you’ve chosen to exclude them from that part of your life. This can best be dealt with by explaining that you were concerned for your dates’ privacy. That way they won’t feel that they lacked the trust of you and your spouse.


Dealing with the ordinary interactions of your family and social life with your marriage can be difficult enough, without complications like this. But if you plan ahead and make sure you deal with it together, it’s far from impossible to find a happy resolution.

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